Post-sternotomy complications

Last revised by David Luong on 27 Jul 2021

Post-sternotomy complications comprise a varied range of complications that can occur at varying intervals following a median sternotomy. 

Complication rates for median sternotomy have been reported to range from 0.5-5% and mortality rates ranging from 7-80%.

They are perhaps best divided into presternal, sternal and post-sternal compartments:

  • cellulitis
  • sinus tract formation
  • presternal abscess formation
  • expected post-surgical appearances: can persist for around 2-3 weeks
    • small foci of mediastinal gas: usually resolve by around 7 days postoperatively but can persist longer
    • defects in the sternum (including of gaps up to 4 mm in width)
    • step-offs (sternal tables at different levels)
    • impaction (overriding of the sternal halves)

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